Some of my worst moments come when I’m driving. My tears flow freely in the car. And on the road is where I’ve been confronted with some blatant ugliness in others. It’s where my anger is more volatile, harder to control. I’m not fearful every time I drive, but I suspect some of this is trauma-related.
This morning we were sitting in standing traffic. Not moving at all. I decided to take a back road, and had to cross over a lane of traffic to make the turn I wanted. There was space, and as I started to merge over I made eye contact with the driver that I was cutting in front of–he was sitting at a complete stop. I was indicating to him that I was going to cross all the way over and be out of his way. When he noticed what I was doing he threw up his hands in exasperation and I saw his mouth shout what my ears couldn’t hear… “What the hell?!!” I was wronging him by needing to cross in front of him.
I pulled in front of him anyway. And then on to the next lane, and made my turn. Shaking. Tears pouring down my face. Hurt, angry. Why are people so unkind? I don’t understand.
I watched a pickup truck speed up behind another car, tailing with only 5ish feet between them. Going 65mph. I watched a driver having an argument on her phone as she drove behind me. I wanted to scream at them all that my child is dead, that these things might seem harmless, but it’s not worth the risk. To plead with them to be courteous and pay attention.
Most of the time I can control my temper when the kids are in the car. When I’m by myself, it’s harder to stay calm. Someone drives too close, or comes behind me too fast, and I’m left shaking and crying from either fear or fury. I’ve shouted and cursed at cars that race past me. I’ve screamed so hard that my throat hurts for the rest of the day. I wish there was something practical to hit in the car, because I want to pound on something, and the steering wheel isn’t quite solid enough for that. I weep, the flood of tears blinding my eyes. It’s not safe, but it happens often.
So many times in the last 7 months I’ve stepped back and watched myself, and wondered what in the world has happened to me. All of this is out of character. I’m like the explosive neighbor you wish would move out of the next-door apartment. I’m lost and I don’t like the fragile and unstable excuse of a person that’s replaced me.
There are a thousand ways to express the love I have for my living children. When Samuel died, those ways were reduced to a paltry few, most of which involve tears, and feel like they will strangle my heart. But I still love him, perhaps even more than before. Love that can’t express itself goes a little crazy. It’s a love that rages and weeps because I’ve lost him. A love that looks at photographs because I can’t kiss his cheek, and a love that throws things across the room because of the unfairness of it all. The anger and grief and pain, it’s all born out of love with nowhere to go. I had no choice when I physically let go of Samuel, but my heart still clings to him. I’m not ready to move on, I can’t. His backpack is still by the back door, and his clothes still hang in the closet. I sometimes instinctively check to see if his seat belt is on, and grasp the air for his hand in a parking lot. Every day it hits me again like it’s new. He isn’t here.
I like to go to the cemetery. It’s quiet there, and I sing all of our old lullabies to him. I cry until I can’t cry anymore. I take flowers, and once I left a toy car on top of his headstone for everyone to see that here, in this field of soldiers and heroes, is buried a child. It’s a desperate substitute since I can’t take care of him and love him in person.
I found something he would like in Iceland and brought it back. Not because it matters to him, of course. I know it doesn’t. He isn’t here. But I’m his mother and I have to do something. I took the gift to his grave and buried it under the grass in front of his headstone. I’m sure the cemetery wouldn’t approve if they knew, but the rules don’t say anything specifically about digging up the grass. And if I left it in sight, they would remove it. (It’s a national cemetery, and if you leave anything other than fresh flowers, they take it away. They have so many rules. I’ve broken almost all of them, except for picnicking, I haven’t done that. Although if I wanted to throw a 4th of July party there, I would. I get annoyed when I’m told what I can and cannot do at my child’s grave. They are going to get tired of me and I don’t care.)
I wish I could read him a book. Teach him to tie his shoes. Show him the inchworm we found this afternoon. Kiss him goodnight, tuck him into bed. I just want to hear his voice again. So much love with no where to go.
Shortly after Samuel died I began to struggle with my faith. It showed itself slowly. I didn’t feel God’s presence or strength after the accident, even though I publicly said that I did. In those first few weeks I felt shock and numbness that I labeled peace. As that faded, and the pain surged, I relied on faith. God is good, I can trust him. God loves us, God will help us through this. I didn’t see it or feel it, but I had faith stored away like food for a long winter. We let everyone know we still trusted God’s mysterious ways even in the middle of tragedy.
Maybe it was the questions that started to consume my faith. Or maybe it was anger. I watched the world leave the funeral and go straight into celebrating the Christmas season. My head understood this, but my heart felt it as injustice, as insincerity. It could have been the loneliness. Maybe I needed someone to hold my arms up like Moses, and without help, my heart grew discouraged. Maybe it’s just difficult to avoid doubt in deep grief. Whatever it was, God’s silence continued, and my faith diminished.
It’s hard to pray when it feels like God isn’t listening. It’s hard to read the Bible when it feels strangely feigned. Without faith, a verse about God answering my calls for help seemed about as reliable as Disney lyrics that tell me to wish upon a star so my dreams will come true. Sweet, yes, but fantasy. Music, always my joy and expression of hope, was a roulette of bad feelings. My head was filled with despair, not songs of praise. And certainly not songs of surrendering to God. Surrender? God wants to take more? Hadn’t I given enough for at least a year or two?
This should be my place of peace. I should find comfort and strength in God.
God is not my comfort.
It is an awful thing to lose a child. It might be a worse thing to lose God.
Some days I hold on. I find a crumb of faith and start breathing again, desperate because I don’t want to lose this most important thing. Crumbs don’t last long. The floor is picked-over. Was that the last one, or is God preparing a feast?
I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen since the funeral. I expected to catch up a few minutes, to find out how she’s been. And I expected something like a hug or a sincere, “Oh I’ve been thinking about you, how’ve you been?” Instead she got too loud. “HEY!!! How’s your SUMMER? So much FUN, right?!!??”
I couldn’t do it. I smiled, agreed, and escaped. I hate the awkwardness that clogs 90% of my interactions now. I see it in people’s eyes. No one knows what to say.